The best defence is not being there: avoidance of larger carnivores is not driven by risk intensity

Karolina Zalewska, Cristian N. Waggershauser, Kenny Kortland, Xavier Lambin* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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Species interactions are key factors determining the distribution and structure of species assemblages. Owing to their central positions, mid-ranking mammalian carnivores are involved in interactions with numerous species, including competition for resources and instances of killing by higher ranking predators. Lethal interactions can directly influence species’ demography. However, the fear of lethal interactions, competition, or both, may also affect when and where individuals are active (i.e., non-lethal interactions). Although differences in body size and trophic overlap are known predictors of the frequency of lethal
interactions, their influence on non-lethal interactions is uncertain. Through camera trapping, we studied non-lethal interactions between a small mesocarnivore (pine marten), a potential killer and intense competitor (red fox) and a moderate competitor and unlikely killer (Eurasian badger). We determined overlap and differences in their diel activity patterns and the degree of spatial overlap in two seasons with contrasting resource availability. Additionally, we
estimated the effect of larger carnivore detection rates on pine marten detection rates and compared time intervals between pine marten visits to baited stations in the absence and presence of either or both larger carnivores. Our results are consistent with pine martens distributing their daily activity to maximise overlap with prey and to minimise competition and risk of aggression over the spatial scale. Pine martens also responded to the immediate threat of larger carnivores irrespective of the threat they pose by taking 4 to 7 days longer to return to a station. Small-scale non-lethal interactions such as these may enable pine martens to coexist closely with two larger carnivores, yet it remains uncertain whether their population incurs a demographic cost through restricted access to resources. Carnivore’s risk-avoidance strategies could be harnessed to protect prey species of interest. However, our results suggest avoidance is short-lived and recurrent stimuli would be necessary.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-122
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Zoology
Issue number2
Early online date28 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2021

Bibliographical note

We would like to thank the Cairngorms Connect, Forestry and Land Scotland, Wildland.Ltd, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and NatureScot for providing access to the study sites, and their staff who supported our work. We would like to thank Thomas MacDonell and Wildland.Ltd in particular for their in-kind contributions and continued support. Comments by two anonymous reviewers and the journal’s associate editor contributed to improve this article. The study was funded by Forestry and Land Scotland, the School of Biological Sciences (University of Aberdeen) and Wildland.Ltd.


  • Non-lethal
  • interaction
  • temporal
  • spatial
  • spatiotemporal
  • risk
  • Pine Marten


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